Kids Pony Foundation
Our charity strives to enhance the lives of disadvantaged, physically and mentally disabled children. We do this via an extensive program of pony and animal therapy. Our children come from a wide range of backgrounds. Many come from a poor socio-economic environment and as such, would never have the opportunity to experience farm life or horse riding. There have been significant studies carried out on pony therapy and the positive results it has on children with behavioural disabilities. These studies show it increases confidence, communication and motor skills.
We carry out hippotherapy. This is where the horse’s movement is transferred through to the child. This produces a combination of sensory, motor, and neurological input that we use to treat a wide variety of diagnoses. Northern Ireland has the highest percentage of children with disabilities in the UK with government resources already very stretched and unable to keep up with the current demand for therapy for these children. We provide an invaluable service which to date has been privately funded. We are the only pony therapy charity for children in Northern Ireland.
Our charity was established in 2015, with one therapy pony, 'Barney'. The charity now has 251 children who receive weekly pony therapy sessions and we have a waiting list of over 500 children who wish to attend the charity. Unfortunately, at the moment we cannot accommodate these children due to our current resources.
We are bringing these children and families with similar conditions together creating a cohesive environment. We invite the siblings of the disabled child to attend at specific times so they can meet other children who are going through similar issues. Siblings of disabled children can also feel very isolated as so much of the time and energy from the parents is directed at the needs of the disabled child. This is an opportunity for children to get together and talk about the issues they face and how they overcome any difficulties they experience. It is also an opportunity for them to mix with other children without feeling they are being judged by peers who do not have an understanding of their situation. We find taking this holistic approach can help lessen added stress within the family.
What we Do
All of the children who attend our charity have a medically diagnosed condition which could be either physical or mental. All of our therapy work revolves around these children's needs and we have worked very hard to establish a very special place for them. All children are individually assessed when they join the charity by one of our pony therapy specialists. From this assessment we are able to determine the most appropriate therapy to fit the child's needs, we also do this in consultation with the parents and carers. During the induction program we assess many of sensory triggers the child may have, we combine pony therapy with sensory therapy as the pony has the ability to calm the children and focus them on the challenge presented.
The children have a wide range of disabilities some of them with multiple disabilities such as autism, down syndrome, sight impaired, hearing impaired, cerebral palsy, giantism and many more.
There have been many studies of the positive affects of hippotherapy (pony therapy). Through hippotherapy, the horses movement is transferred through to the child. This produces a combination of sensory, motor and neurological input that we use to treat a wide variety of diagnoses. Horses create a dynamic, three-dimensional movement that cannot be reproduced in a traditional clinic setting. The gait, or stride of the horse, coupled with the animal's warmth, provide numerous benefits.
Hippotherapy is an effective tool when considering therapeutic interventions for children, age 2 and older. The interaction between the child, the horse, and the overall environment can be very effective in facilitating increased muscle tone, and improvement in flexibility, mobility and posture. Hippotherapy provides sensory stimulation to muscles and joints, impacts balance and movement sense, and provides variable tactile (touch) experiences through the horse's body heat, or when a client rubs, pats or hugs the horse.
Hippotherapy may also affect psychological, cognitive, behavioural and communication functions for our children. Children are taught to relate appropriately to the horse, while also improving their judgment and awareness of their body as it relates to their environment. These activities develop memory, improved communication skills, and instil self-confidence in the child. Coupled with the neuromuscular impairment, children with physical disabilities also face further muscle deficiency due to the overall difficulty in exercising. By improving muscle tone, a physically disabled child will have greater range and capacity of movement which may relieve circulation problems and pressure sores which are provoked by prolonged sitting. Increasing range of physical ability will also reduce opportunity for joint contractures, muscle atrophy and deformities to occur which in turn increases functional capabilities and may contribute to improved quality of life. It is therefore of paramount importance to improve muscle tone.
Pony therapy continuously changes the relationship between the child’s centre of mass and their base of support therefore improving coordination and challenging balance. This is further facilitated by changes in the horse’s stride, velocity and direction which demands stimulation of righting and equilibrium responses, the stride of the pony also assists in the child's pelvic movements and improvement in core strength.
Even after 6 sessions we can witness improvement in head and trunk stability. This is the basis for many functional skills and muscular development. The pony therapy is a physical activity which the child can develop physically via the support and energy of the horse. The warm feeling of the horses body gives a calming affect to the child which adds to the natural feeling of the movement.
Our vision is simple to help and change the lives of as many mentally challenged, physically challenged and disadvantaged children as possible. Analysis shows that there is a marked difference between the quality of life and opportunities available to disabled children and their families compared to those without disabilities in terms of housing, their economic situation and their employment status. Parents and carers are normally struggling on low incomes and have little choice in the therapy options that they can access for their children.
Research suggests that 57% of children with disabilities in Northern Ireland live in poverty, compared to 37% without disabilities. The situation is becoming critical as there is an extreme lack of resources to provide the basic therapy that many of these children need. This is also having a profound affect on the families with many parents becoming so affected that they are suffering clinical depression due to their dire situation.
The benefits of pony therapy include;
- development of balance and core muscle strength
- Improved confidence, self esteem and trust
- reduced stress and anxiety
- improved social skills
- endorphin release
and many more
Upon commencing weekly therapy the children are assessed individually on a monthly basis and a written assessment is provided to their parents and carers. Some children commence with individual therapy sessions and progress to group therapy where there may be up to 10 children per session, the therapy is tailored according to the individual needs of the children. The charity is all about the children everything we do is based around the needs of the children. The key to the therapy is consistency and regularity, we try to always keep the same therapist throughout the sessions with each particular child.
Our Need for Help
The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge effect on the charity like it has the rest of the community and world. Our charities survival relies on private and corporate donations to survive. Over the past few months these donations have almost been non existent.
Unfortunately the charity has not been able to just suspend operations we have over 700 animals in care which include 20 therapy ponies. We have not been able to furlough staff as they are needed to care for the animals and maintain the facility. We are seeking funds to help us with the reopening and continuation of the charity. We are also seeking funds to allow the charity to increase its resources.
We have over 500 children on our waiting list.
Funding will allow further recruitment of trained and qualified therapists who are a key element to our organisation, along with recruitment will be the financial ability to train more volunteers.
We are the only registered charity which currently provides pony and animal therapy to children in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has the highest number of disabled children in the UK, the majority of these children are living in poor economic circumstances. These children have the greatest needs however unfortunately the lowest opportunities due to the current overstretched resources in Northern Ireland.
The executive realise that there is a real and growing problem for the care and wellbeing of disabled children in Northern Ireland, these children desperately need as much help as possible.
We do not want to have any children on the waiting list, under phase two we want to cater for all disabled and disadvantaged children who wish to come to our charity, it is important now because we have proved the need for our services in the community, we have shown the difference that we can make to these children's lives and furthermore the demand is ever increasing. the only way we can accommodate this increasing demand is to increase the facilities resources.
We have a strict safeguarding policy which has been further enhanced to included Covid 19 measures in accordance with government and health authority advice.
We thank you for any support you can give.